Breaking habitual patterns of thinking

Last week I talked about how some of us have the habit of catastrophizing future experience and how I had noticed this pattern in myself.

bluebell path

So what have I been doing about it?

The first step in all personal development is self-awareness. We cannot change anything unless we first notice it and then acknowledge it. First step achieved.

The next step is to recognise that any habitual behaviour we have will have been formed originally for good reason. In NLP this is called the “positive intention” of the behaviour or thinking pattern.

This is based on the idea that we develop behaviours and patterns that help us survive in the world. Sometimes these are based on faulty logic because we lack all the relevant information and perspectives. The bottom line is; we do the best we can with what we have available to us.

I mention this because it is vital that you give yourself a break and avoid beating yourself up over a historical thinking pattern. We need to forgive ourselves and accept the behaviour for what it is, a habit.

This step I have also achieved.

I then made a point of being mindful and noticing as soon as the behaviour began. Each and every time I noticed myself drifting into negative future thinking I stopped myself.

Here is the really important tip. If you just try to stop yourself and that’s it, two minutes later you would probably be at it again! So here’s what I did next:

  1. I asked myself, “does this thinking have any basis in reality?” In other words do I need to do something?
  2. If the answer to the above question was “yes” I would then take some action. So in the example I gave last week of a neighbours dog entering our garden, Joe and I took some action. We first spoke to the neighbour who although saying the right things did not stop his dog coming in our garden. So we then took more action, we fenced the garden on our side of the boundary. Problem solved. I no longer think about this issue (except to tell you).
  3. Having done the above or if the answer is “no” I make a conscious point of asking myself what are three great things in my life right now and three things in the near future I will enjoy.

This technique is very much a cognitive technique requiring conscious thought but can be very effective. I have noticed a decrease in this kind of thinking since last week. If this is an issue for you give it a go and let me know what happens.

There are other approaches to change thinking patterns including many within whitebell If you find the above is not working for you it might be worth investigating some alternatives with a qualified NLP Practitioner.

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When thoughts of the future lead to despair

robin_williamsMy title this week is a little dramatic and yet feels fitting. This week we lost a wonderful man, Robin Williams. He added so much to the world publically and from what I’m reading privately too.

Who really knows what causes someone to take their own life? Anything I write here would be pure speculation however perhaps part of this issue is how that person sees the future.

There are varying degrees of what might be called “catastrophizing”. This is the habit of thinking about the future in terms of what could go wrong or how it might be in a negative way. As with most psychological patterns there may well be a sliding scale with on one end extreme catastrophizing through to extreme “Polly Anna” focus. (More on that later).

I have noticed in myself a habit when not focused on anything in particular for my thoughts to become almost obsessive about, in my case, small things that “could” worry me.

I start making up stories about what might happen. An example being this week when a new neighbour moved in. Their dog kept coming into our garden and despite the fact the dog seemed quite friendly I got worried about what might happen if it “attacked” my dogs.

I have noticed with my own habitual thinking patterns that I am being overly dramatic about really small things. To be clear I am far from depressed and in fact my life works really well and yet I’m still prone to these kind of thoughts.

I am curious as to how much these thoughts impact on my health, in particular my blood pressure. What about my sense of well-being and life satisfaction?

Next week I will tell you what I’ve been doing to change this pattern in my own thinking and how it’s going.

For those of you looking to the future, I will be turning this segment around into how to use future focused thinking positively in a few weeks time.

The Well Place

 

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Back to the Future! What you focus on is what you get!

sunset 1Finally I am ready to start writing about looking to the future. To start with I want to pose a few questions for this week:

 

 

When you think about the future, how do you think about it?

Are you making plans that are sensible and practical?

Do you have dreams?

Do you imagine spending your lottery winnings?

Are your future thoughts about catastrophe and mayhem?

Are you excited about the future?

Afraid?

Anxious?

Curious?

Oblivious?

Are you like Scarlet O’Hara? “I’ll think about it tomorrow?

Next week I will begin answering some of these questions from my perspective. Until then, share your thoughts with me.  fog on the forest

 

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Listening to your body in the “now”

I was going to move on and start talking about thinking about our future selves however this week I have been finding some things out that I thought would be worth sharing.

Butterfly on pink

If you follow this blog regularly you will know that the doctor had identified that I need to do something about my blood pressure. I am determined to manage this without drugs.

As a result I got myself a home monitor and have been meditating, eating right and exercising with a focus on cardio. The good news is I am getting there! I have a way to go yet however there is definite improvement.

The reason I mention this is because of something I noticed this week. I took a measurement in the middle of my work day. I had been dealing with something I found irritating. Suddenly my BP was right up in the “red” zone almost 20 points above my normal average!

I noticed that I was also about to feel my increased pulse and heart rate without the monitor. I decided to do an experiment.

I took five minutes to centre myself and breathe. I then took the measurement again. My BP was back to my new norm. This was really interesting biofeedback. Since then I have been playing with consciously managing my emotional state on a more regular basis.

As a personality type I do have a tendency to get “wound up” by small things. I am a lot more relaxed than in previous years however that tendency is still there. This experience has bought home to me how sometimes our reactions to petty things can be a block to maintaining our optimum health. This was not really news to me but a good reminder.

This is where mindfulness meets every day living. Rather than treating mindfulness as something one does for twenty minutes a day embrace mindful living.

The lesson for me personally?IMG_4138_ daisy edited-1_edited-1

It is okay to get angry, upset or worried, these are valid emotions. What I need to let go of is over reacting to things that don’t warrant a strong reaction. I need to listen to my body.

As an aside, often when we overeat we have stopped listening to our bodies. Your body will tell you when you are full or if something is not good for you, you just need to listen. Too often we have switched off our mind body connection.

Are you listening to your body? What do you need to pay attention to?

Next week, who knows what I’ll write about for now I’m present with right here!

 

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Being in flow, how to get the most out of life

I have just returned from a wonderful holiday on the Isle of Wight. The weather was amazing and we were spending our time with Joe’s family. We all got on great and had a great experience.

The highlight for me came when I decided to set myself the goal of photographing some red squirrels in the wild. This shy creature is very rare in the UK and it is a privilege to see one.

I did my homework and some research. I contacted Helen Butler from the Wight Squirrel Project. She very kindly told me about a hide on a reserve where I had a good chance of seeing squirrels if I got up at dawn and took some walnuts with me. She advised me to put some walnuts where I wanted to take pictures.

Squirrel IMG_5114_edited-1So I got up at the crack of dawn and left Joe snoozing away. The dogs were a bit miffed at being left behind but went right back to bed as soon as I left!

I arrived at the hide and confess I was thinking this was going to be difficult. I had assumed I would need to put the nuts out some distance away and use my 500 lens. But it seemed the hide was set up to look at the wet lands and I’m thinking;

“Great get up at dawn and nothing!”

I started unpacking my camera gear anyway and then I heard it! The patter of tiny feet on the roof of the hide. The next thing I know there is a squirrel two feet away from me demanding some food!

Well I had to change to a shorter lens! Squirel 2 IMG_5138_edited-2

It was then I entered the flow state. I lost all sense of time and found myself totally engrossed in what I was doing. Time passed without me noticing and I took picture after picture. It was amazing.

This for me is what “flow” is all about. Flow is not about “trying”, flow emerges when we give ourselves up to a task or an experience. Any thoughts are about the here and now. We are fully engaged and time passes without us even realising it.

I loved this experience so much that I returned later in the day with Joe. Late afternoon can be a good time for squirrels but there were no guarantees.

Isle of wight Joe squirrel 254_edited-2

We were so lucky! They were back and this time even more cheeky. One ran right up to Joe and tapped him on the arm. Another raided our bag to help himself to walnuts we hadn’t put out yet.

Joe and I both experienced flow again. I’m not sure if much has been written about sharing flow as it is often written about as a solitary experience. For us it was a joy to share.

Isle of wight raw 264_edited-2

What gets you into flow? Is it something creative? Something everyday? Let me know your experiences.

 

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Savouring every moment as if it is your last!

This week I watched a movie on my own. You know how sometimes you can watch a movie and nothing much happens and then other films just grab you right away.

Well I was grabbed.

I found myself becoming drawn into the story and really associating to all the ups and downs of the lead character. This movie turned out to be exactly the right one for the topic I am writing about this week.

What was that movie? I hear you say.

It was by the talented Richard Curtis and called “About Time”. Now I don’t want to give the plot away so I won’t say too much about the story. There was time travel involved but only relating to living a normal life (if that makes sense).

The key important message at the end of the film I will share. It was a reminder to treat each day as precious, even when life is tough or bitter/sweet treasure every second. It will not come again.

In positive psychology one of the ideas explored is that of “savouring”. This could be about food but is really much more. How often have you been in a wonderful place but thinking about trivial life details instead of paying attention?

So here is my challenge for you, whatever you are doing today savour it. Connect to what you see, hear, experience and feel. If you are with other people, really be with them. If you are on your own be with that too. Even if you are doing some kind of routine task notice what happens if you savour it.

Next week I will introduce you to the idea of “flow”. Some of you may experience it before we talk next.

 

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Developing a Meditation Habit, Remembering there is no goal!

060414 106This week I am continuing on from the ideas I shared with you last week.

In a goal oriented world it is often challenging remembering that mediation is not about doing it right or getting to some “higher plain of consciousness”. It is far simpler than that.

It does have many benefits as already discussed however it is not intended to about getting somewhere!

So first let me check in with you. Did I meditate every day? Truthfully, not quite but I did meditate most days. Am I feeling a benefit? Definitely!

I decided to do a measurable test today and so straight after meditating today I took my blood pressure. I was 136/83 which I believe puts me just under the problematic scores. I’m not consistently there yet however here is some evidence that mediation is helping.

That sounded like a goal didn’t it?

Fair enough it did. However during meditation practice we let go of our human desire to achieve anything. The way I was taught there are a number of things meditation is not about:

  1. Trying to do something.
  2. Clearing your mind.
  3. Achieving anything.
  4. Relaxing.

This may seem paradoxical but stay with me as I describe a simple mediation practice.

Step one – your environment

Find somewhere to sit preferably comfortably where you will not be disturbed. Turn off phones and computers but do place a clock or watch somewhere close by that you can see easily.

If you have pets you may need to shut them out during your practice as they often get drawn to the energy people release during meditation.

Step two – posture

Sit comfortably with both feet flat on the floor in a chair that supports you in an upright position. Ideally begin with your spine aligned and straight. Your posture may move during meditation and that is okay.

Step three – begin

Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath in. Allow your mind to follow the physical experience of breathing in and then breathing out. This will be your focus. Notice how your breath flows through your body and how your body feels as breathe deeply and naturally.

Some people can maintain their focus on their breathing easily and effortlessly. If that is true for you carry on until about twenty minutes has passed. Trust yourself to know and this is why you have a clock nearby so you can peek at it if you feel you need too. (Just hint here, an alarm is a very unhelpful way to monitor the time as it will startle you and may undo your experience a little).

For most people there is a distraction thinking however. You start focusing on your breath and then suddenly realise you have been thinking about something totally different. Sometimes it is something mundane, sometimes it can be something we are worried about or it might be something we are looking forward to. Sometimes we even think about how we will talk to someone else about our experience of meditating!

The most important thing to know about distraction thinking is that it is normal! If you realise you are doing it here is what you do. Acknowledge the thoughts, notice them and then take your focus back to your breathing. We may sometimes need to re-focus every couple of minutes. This is okay, it is still part of the process and you will still get the benefits.

It is very important that you give yourself permission to be however you end up being in the mediation. Some people get bored, others experience discomfort and of course some people have a lovely time. One experience is not more valuable than another.

If you meditate regularly you are likely to experience the whole range at some point. I certainly know I have. I also know that when I have persisted in practicing daily my experiences tend to be more often positive and relaxing.

I will mention at this point that some people will experience moments of suddenly becoming aware as if they were off somewhere for a few minutes. This is known as the “gap” and is very natural. It is just another aspect of meditation that some people experience regularly and some rarely. Just to be clear it is not the goal either.

Urn

At the end of your twenty minutes take a few moments to gently ground yourself. You might want to write for a few minutes in your journal or just gently stretch out your body.

And that is all there is too it. This is a very simple version and there are many others. I do recommend if you have never meditated join a local group or class. There will be one near you somewhere. If you can get a recommendation so much the better.

Instead of focusing on your breath you can learn other techniques or can experiment with eyes open meditations such as gazing at a flower, a candle flame or running water. I love to meditate by my pond and watch the water flow from the waterfall.

More next week.

 

 

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Looking after your health in the present moment

This month I finally got around to having a health MOT. I’d been meaning to for ages but had been putting it off because other things become more “pressing”.

Mostly I had good news for instance clear of diabetes and excellent cholesterol levels. Then came the shock, my blood pressure is too high. I wasn’t expecting that. It is alwaThe Well Placeys interesting to note how such things can come about.

Causes can be over weight, lack of exercise, stress, too much alcohol, smoking, salt and caffeine. It can also sometimes be hereditary. So I reviewed my own case. My father has had high blood pressure but he also followed poor lifestyle choices at the time so it’s hard to say if there is a hereditary component.

I don’t smoke, never add salt to my diet and eat relatively healthily (hence my great cholesterol score). I also exercise regularly. Strangely I’ve increased my caffeine over the last six months having hardly ever had more than a couple of coffees a week I’m up to four cups a day.

What about alcohol? Well I consider myself moderate however the fact Joe and I share a bottle of wine twice a week makes me a binge drinker! This is worse than drinking one glass a day apparently. I knew this but was in denial about it!

Over the last 18 months my stress levels have gone up, first with the loss of my father-in- law and then with a very stressful house sale that dragged on for over a year. Luckily the day before I went to the doctors this was resolved.

As a result of this stress I have found myself slipping back into comfort eating and have gained about 20lbs on last year. So note to those of you to whom this applies. I have been comfort eating healthy food plus chocolate! Even healthy food is unhelpful if you eat too much. If I lose just 10lbs my blood pressure will improve. Interestingly enough according to the doctor my weight is okay and she didn’t think I needed to lose weight unless I wanted to. (I am only just within the healthy weight for my height and age). I was surprised by this as it seems losing weight is the easiest way to start making a change to my blood pressure.

Those of you who followed my blog about weight loss a couple of years ago will remember how I linked weight to emotional issues. I still believe this and as Byron Lewis mentions in his book about “Addictions Demystified” we shouldn’t look at falling off the wagon as failing. It is a normal stage in the recovery process. So that is how I am treating this issue in my life. Time to get back on the wagon.

What is one of the other best ways of reducing stress?

Many of you may already have been thinking about this as you read this blog! Meditation is a practice that has a whole wagon load of research behind it. The evidence suggests that meditation of any form can reduce blood pressure and increase well-being in all kinds of way.

There is a great quote from the author Richard Bach:

“We teach best what we most need to learn.”

I can’t remember if this quote comes from Jonathan Livingstone Seagull or Illusions. They are both brilliant books so do read them both.

Okay universe I get it. I have been writing about mindfulness. Time to take my own advice. I have re-started a regular mediation practice.

My plan to reduce my blood pressure before my next check up with the doctor and thus avoid drug treatment is as follows.

  1. Reduce my weight by 20lbs.
  2. Continue to exercise regularly with high intensity circuits.
  3. Continue to eat healthily with less comfort eating.
  4. Reduce my caffeine.
  5. Reduce alcohol.
  6. Meditate daily

I have discovered it is easy to buy a blood pressure monitor so I can check my scores regularly to see how I’m doing. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Next week I will describe how to meditate for those of you who would like some guidance.

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Savouring life, re-connecting with the wonder of the world

Last week I encouraged you to take a few moment each morning mindfully taking 10 cleansing breaths on waking. This exercise was to prepare you for the day by taking a couple of moments practicing living in the moment mindfully.

This week we are going to begin exploring savouring by using food. The exercise I’m going to share with you is regularly used in mindfulness practice and training.

To begin with you will need two things. The first is a place to do the exercise where you can be comfortable and away from distractions and interruptions. If you live with other people you may need to ask them to give you some time alone for the exercise or you could invite them to join you.

You will also need a raisin for each person. Here are the instructions for the exercise.

Place the raisin in the centre of your palm and carefully examine it. Look at it from the perspective of seeing it as if for the first time. What do you notice about it? What colours? Shapes? Contours?

Notice the highlights where light shines….. the darker folds and hollows in the little wrinkles.

Take your time……..

Now take the raisin between your finger and thumb and carefully roll it to feel the texture. What do you notice about the feel of it? Is it rough or smooth? Notice the variability both visually and with the way it feels.

Take your time………

Any thoughts or ideas that come into your mind that question what you are doing can be noticed and released. So if you find yourself asking “what is the point of this exercise?” You can notice that thought and just let it go. There is no need to judge the comment or yourself. Return your focus to the raisin.

Now take that raisin and smell it. You might even find that if you close your eyes while smelling the scent will be even more powerful. What happens if you make a little tear in the raisin and then smell it?

Take your time……

Look at the raisin again. What do you notice now that you didn’t notice before?

Gently touch the tip of the raisin to the tip of your tongue. What do you notice? Now try touching the raisin to other parts of your tongue. Notice how the different taste buds give you different flavours.

Take your time….

Place the raisin in your mouth and slowly roll it around your mouth without biting into it. Notice how your mouth might be watering in response. What are noticing about the flavour now?

Take your time….

Gently bite the raisin to release even more flavour and very slowly chew the raisin noticing what happens to the consistency of it. Really take your time to chew.

Finally allow yourself to swallow when your body is ready noticing any sensations that accompany the raisin moving in its new for through your body to your stomach.

Take your time……

Notice how this experience compared to any time you have eaten a raisin before. I invite you to eat at least one meal mindfully this week. To do that sit at a table to eat. No TV, radio or chatter. Just you and the food.

I wonder if you will enjoy it more? You may also notice that you will be able to tune into your body and what it needs more.
Let me know how you get on …….

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Seize the day, living each moment to the full with every breath

I promised to talk about being positively in the present this week so here we go.

Take a moment right now to stop and take ten full deep breaths in and out. Focus fully on your body and how it feels to follow your breath all the way in and all the way out.

Did you stop? Did you focus on the now?

If the answer is “no” stop reading and do it now.

 

Hopefully you are now back having spent a couple of minutes fully breathing. What did you notice? Were you able to keep your focus on your breath or did your mind wander or even wonder?

UrnI took the time out to do this exercise myself and here is what I noticed. For the first couple of breaths I was still running some internal dialogue about writing the blog. Then I let that go and stayed with my breath. Then a noisy fly started buzzing near me and I noticed annoyance and distraction. I took my focus back to my breathing and relaxed into it. The fly miraculously became silent! By the tenth breath I felt relaxed and present.

I was also more aware of my body and felt more connected physically.

 

stone circle

On waking every morning I used to regularly do this exercise and noticed a wonderful calming effect. So here is my challenge for you this week. Each morning on waking before you do anything else sit or stand and take 10 cleansing breaths. Jot some notes in your journal afterward about your experience and let me know how you get on.

Next week, savouring and we’ll start with food!!

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